A Dynamic Duo

Two cardiothoracic surgeons bring a wealth of expertise to the table

Voegele and PaxtonWhen Charles Kenney was diagnosed with multiple cardiovascular disorders, he was considered “too high-risk” for the long and difficult surgery he needed. He also suffered from diabetes as well as hypertension, and this dangerous combination of disorders, or ‘co-morbidities’, further reduced his chances of a positive outcome.

Heart and lungsThen Mr. Kenney met with Dr. L. Dieter Voegele and Dr. Thomas Paxton at the Cardiovascular Institute of Carolina, and the two cardiothoracic surgeons agreed to perform the operation despite the risks involved. After the lengthy procedure, Mr. Kenney came through “with flying colors.” He entered the cardiac rehabilitation program at Aiken Regional, where he adopted a heart-healthy lifestyle. Today, all of his disease processes have improved and he’s experiencing a fuller, more active life.

“I’m living proof that there is life after a heart attack,” says Mr. Kenney. “And in my case, it’s a much better life than the one I was living before.”

Heart Surgery: Modern Medicine’s Marvel

Cardiac surgery is truly one of medicine’s modern miracles. In the operating room, a patient is placed in a clinical state where the heart is no longer beating and the lungs no longer breathing – while a surgical team repairs or replaces a damaged valve or bypasses a blocked coronary artery. Typically, the patient is discharged five to seven days later.

The miracle is a testament to medical technology – but also to incredible teamwork. No one knows this better than Dr. Voegele and Dr. Paxton, who credit their long partnership with being able to save the lives of thousands of critically ill patients.

Teamwork in Operation

The two physicians have more than 60 years of combined surgical experience. Yet perhaps even more significant, they’ve been working together, side by side, for more than eleven of those years.

“I can’t think of any other specialty that requires teamwork more than cardiac surgery,” Dr. Paxton says. “Working together for this long has enhanced our effectiveness and efficiency, especially for complex procedures such as valve repair, bypass operations and endovascular repair of aneurysms.”

Dr. Voegele agrees. “We enjoy a constructive relationship that has led us to develop new ways to work that streamline our processes and advance the care we provide for patients,” he said.

A conventional cardiac operation, which typically lasts two to four hours, unites four professions and a battery of specialized equipment in a carefully choreographed routine. The surgeons are supported by a circulating nurse, cardiac scrub technician, an anesthesiologist and cardiac nurse anesthetist, and a perfusionist — a highly trained technical specialist who runs the heart bypass machine that takes over the functions of the heart and lungs.

At the Cardiovascular Institute of Carolina, the team performs hundreds of cardiovascular procedures a year, including open heart operations, thoracic cases involving lung cancer and benign diseases of the lung and all types of peripheral vascular surgery. Consequently, a well-defined sequence of individual tasks becomes so familiar that team members can proceed through the different stages of the operation without unnecessary conversation.

“Because we can anticipate what the other team member is going to do next, there is a synchronization that is more like that of a machine, rather than a series of individual procedures,” explains Jeffrey Boswell, the cardiac team's Nurse Anesthetist. “The longer we work together, the more efficient the "machine" becomes, leading to a shorter operation and ultimately, a better outcome.”

The ‘Big Picture’ Advantage

Dr. Paxton and his patient,  Samuel Tutt, couldn't be  happier with the outcome  of Samuel's surgery.While there are several subspecialties within cardiovascular surgery, what makes the Voegele/Paxton team unique is that both surgeons have deep expertise in all three cardiothoracic areas — heart, chest and vascular — as well as experience in trauma surgery. “The fact that we can provide this breadth of experience is unusual for a hospital of our size,” says Dr. Paxton.

Recently, the team's diverse skills were put to the test by an 11-year-old patient, Samuel Tutt, who had fallen into a glass door, severing the main artery and vein in his right arm. He experienced massive blood loss and severe shock prior to his arrival at Aiken Regional. Dr. Paxton’s extensive experience in trauma and peripheral vascular surgery enabled him to replace the child’s artery with a vein from his leg and reestablish blood flow before irreparable muscle or nerve damage could occur.

“Speed was of the essence in this case,” says Dr. Paxton. “Our emergency department did an outstanding job stabilizing this critically ill child, and our operating room cardiac team performed quickly and efficiently.” He added, “Without this expertise, we would have had to transfer the patient to another hospital, which in this case time-wise would have been life-threatening.”

A Mutual Bond of Trust

Both doctors feel privileged to be able to make a difference in their patients’ lives, and proud to offer community residents the confidence that most of their cardiac emergency needs can be taken care of right here at Aiken Regional, close to home.

“The bond of trust that forms between surgeon and patient is very special,” says Dr. Paxton. “It is an incredible privilege being trusted so deeply by a patient, for whom everything is on the line.”

“In my life, the closest thing to this responsibility is the sense of love and protection that a parent has for a child. It is that powerful,” adds Dr. Voegele. “The good news is that most patients these days, even ones who are very sick at first, usually recover and end up doing well.”

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Cardiac Rehab:
Supporting Your Journey to Heart Health

After leaving the hospital, patients often need help to embrace a healthy lifestyle. Aiken Regional Medical Centers and the University of South Carolina at Aiken have joined together to provide a rehab program that can reduce the risk of future hospitalization. The program, held at The USCA Wellness Center, combines medically supervised exercise with education about diet and risk factors to help you manage your specific condition through appropriate activity and lifestyle modification.

To learn more, email wellnesscenter@usca.edu or call 803-641-3667. Together, we'll help you build a better life.

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The Cardiovascular Institute
of Carolina

ekgFor high-quality cardiac care, there’s no need to go anywhere other than the Cardiovascular Institute of Carolina at Aiken Regional.

Learn more >

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Aiken Regional Medical Centers is owned and operated by a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc.(UHS), a King of Prussia, PA-based company, that is one of the largest healthcare management companies in the nation.     

Aiken Regional Medical Centers
302 University Parkway
Aiken, SC 29801
803-641-5000

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